Author: Brett Bogler

There’s 80 times as much gold in one ton of cellphones as there is in a gold mine, says Federico Magalini, an expert on electronic waste.


There’s 80 times as much gold in one ton of cellphones as there is in a gold mine, says Federico Magalini, an expert on electronic waste. That means there’s enormous potential for recycling — and yet, most of us keep our old electronics at home.

Lately, there’s been a lot of interest in old electronics. Last week, Apple debuted Daisy, a robot that disassembles old iPhones to recycle the materials inside. Reuterscovered a South Korean factory that specializes in retrieving precious metals from car batteries. And in a recent paper published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, researchers argued that recovering materials from discarded electronics — often called “urban mining” — makes more financial sense than mining for new materials from the earth. (Though sometimes, e-waste doesn’t end up where it’s intended.)

But what exactly is e-waste? Is it just phones and batteries? Where does our laptop go when we do recycle it? How much can we gain from recycling, and how is “urban mining” changing? To answer these questions, The Verge spoke to Magalini, an e-waste researcher who is also a managing director at United Kingdom sustainability firm Sofies.

The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

What is electronic waste? We think of old phones and old laptops, but is that definition too limited?

The best definition of e-waste is any product you discard that is still working, is connected to a plug, and has a battery. This also includes devices that generate electricity, like solar panels. It’s a lot of products, and people should think more about how many of these gadgets they have in the house. The number is about 80 devices per family. But when you tell people, they don’t believe you.

I’ve seen statistics saying that electronics is the fastest-growing source of waste and the problem is getting worse. I’m probably part of the problem because I never do anything with old laptops. I just keep them around.

Yes, exactly. That’s the problem. Think about it: you don’t store food waste at home, or plastic waste or packaging. You get rid of it as soon as possible. But electronic waste is different. It’s easy to find a place to store them, unlike with food waste. And we are emotionally attached to our phones, PCs, and cameras, so it’s difficult to throw these gadgets away.

Plus, even if they are broken, sometimes people still keep them. That’s a huge amount of material that is not entering the recycling chain. Every one of us, without thinking, is keeping this at home and preventing natural resources from going back into the economic cycle.

The idea of recycling e-waste or doing “urban mining” isn’t new, right?

It’s not a new trend, but the term “urban mining,” has been introduced recently to explain one particular concept. Take the example of gold. Gold is present in nature, and, on average, the concentration of gold is about 0.5 grams of gold for every one ton of material. So if you go in your garden and start digging, after you make a big hole and dig out one ton of material, you have the chance to find half a gram of gold. That’s the average concentration on Earth.

Of course, in some places, gold is more concentrated, like gold mines. So, there, you dig one ton of material, and you can find five or six grams of gold.

Now, if you look at how much gold you have in a single mobile phone, it’s obviously not a lot. But in one ton of mobile phones, there is usually about 350 grams of gold. That’s 80 times higher than the concentration you have in gold mines. That’s why we call it “urban mining.” We say it’s much more efficient to extract gold from electronic waste. It’s much more concentrated.

What are the materials were trying to retrieve? Are they all metals?

The majority of electronic waste is metal-dominated: iron, copper, aluminum, and then plastics, of course. In much smaller amounts, you have more precious metals like copper, silver, gold, palladium, iridium, and rare earth metals. And all those fancy technology metals are widely used by the electronics industry. There’s lithium, cobalt…

Historically, metals have value, and you can recycle metal forever. For plastic, it’s different because every time you recycle the plastics, the mechanical properties don’t necessarily remain the same.

What’s the life cycle of something like a laptop? Where does it go?

In Europe, the manufacturer pays for the proper collection and recycling of the waste generated by the product. You can return your old laptop to the shops where you buy the new one or bring it to the local municipal collection point.

If you are in the US, the system is different depending on the state. If you’re in California when you buy a new laptop, you pay an extra amount of money that’s visible in your invoice. It’s maybe two or three bucks. This money is going into a fund managed by the state government of California, and then it’s being used to ensure recyclers and people collecting waste are being paid for their services. In other states, the system is more close to what I described in Europe, where producers are required to pay for the pickup.

What happens after you recycle your laptop, either at the store or a recycling center? And what kind of qualifications do you need to do this job?

You have transporters who take the laptop to a recycling plant where it is disassembled. It’s basically shredded and then the different components are sent to other dedicated players, like a center that is recovering precious metals or a center that is recovering plastic.

For this first part, manual disassembly, you don’t need to be an engineer to do that, though you need to be trained to do it properly. With laptops, you really need to be careful with the monitor because in all monitors you have the backlights, and you need to be very careful not to break them and to contaminate them with mercury. But apart from the screen of the laptop, devices like the motherboard, the keyboard, modems, and printers are just broken into small pieces and sorted and each fraction goes to someone else.

You have usually two or three companies in sequence to go back to the real material, which is eventually used to produce something else. When it comes to iron and copper, it’s going to a furnace to be remelted. Circuit boards go to more complex areas to recover the gold and platinum. The type of recycling really depends on the type of material. And, of course, in some cases, there are people collecting the products to see if they’re suitable for refurbishing instead of being shredded and recycled.

What are the new tech developments that make e-waste easier?

Recycling — especially when it comes to the recovery of precious metals — is as complex as the production of them. If you visit the facility where they recover precious metals, it’s really high-tech. You have engineers who start designing the technology and processes of recycling.

We see, for instance, companies in Europe trying to find a way to automate breaking down an LCD because it’s a labor-intensive process to manually disassemble it. There is technology being developed to recycle old CRTs [cathode-ray tubes, used in monitors]. People are trying to get smarter to access the economic value of the product more quickly. At the same time, we design new products every year, and those products are becoming waste. And we don’t yet have the technology to recycle the materials that we are designing and selling today, so it’s a constant trend and evolution to improve the efficiency of the process. The reality is that 20 or 30 years ago, we had only a few electric products at home. And in the last 15, the electronic and plastic components have been increasing.

From an environmental perspective, is it still better to fix your old phone than to get a new one, even if you recycle?

From an environmental perspective, it’s always good if you keep the products longer because it means new natural resources don’t have to be extracted. But having said that, as long as you make sure that you discard your old phone and the material is kept in the loop, it’s not that bad.

Recycling can create jobs, and recycling done in the right way can be a profitable business. There is a good opportunity to keep our environment clean, to keep resources in the loop, so there are societal benefits in recycling. The worst thing that can happen is that we keep producing new phones and all the discarded ones are just staying in our drawers because resources are limited. If we keep those resources in our houses, hidden, then we might face a supply chain problems or restriction in the near future.



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The Verge

Apple jams Facebook’s web-tracking tools

“We’re shutting that down,” declared Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi, at the firm’s developers conference.

He added that the web browser Safari would ask owners’ permission before allowing the social network to monitor their activity.

The move is likely to add to tensions between the two companies.

Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook had previously described Facebook’s practices as being an “invasion of privacy” – an opinion Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg subsequently denounced as being “glib”.

At the WWDC conference – where Apple outlines its software plans for the months ahead – Mr Federighi said that Facebook keeps watch over people in ways they might not be aware of.

“We’ve all seen these – these like buttons, and share buttons and these comment fields.

“Well, it turns out these can be used to track you, whether you click on them or not.”

He then pointed to an onscreen alert that asked: “Do you want to allow to use cookies and available data while browsing?”

Apple WWDC

“You can decide to keep your information private.”

One cyber-security expert applauded the move.

“Apple is making changes to the core of how the browser works – surprisingly strong changes that should enable greater privacy,” said Kevin Beaumont.

“Quite often the changes companies make around privacy are small, incremental, they don’t shake the market up much.

“Here Apple is allowing users to see when tracking is enabled on a website – actually being able to visually see that with a prompt is breaking new ground.”

He added that the firm appeared willing to flash up a lot of prompts despite the potential for this to become annoying.

“Perhaps Apple is gambling on websites reining in tracking rather than users having to give constant permission to track their device,” he added.

Apple also said that MacOS Mojave would combat a technique called “fingerprinting”, in which advertisers try to track users who delete their cookies.

The method involves identifying computers by the fonts and plug-ins installed among other configuration details.

To counter this, Apple will present web pages with less detail about the computer.

“As a result, your Mac will look more like everyone else’s Mac, and it will be dramatically more difficult for data companies to uniquely identify your device,” Mr. Federighi explained.


Apple event

By Dave Lee, North America technology reporter

Apple’s attempts to block data tracking as you travel around the web could have a real impact on companies that rely on your personal information to make their billions.

And of course, where Apple goes, others often follow. So, if this keynote sets a trend, Facebook might have reason to worry.

Each demo showing these new tools used Facebook and Instagram – owned by Facebook – as the example of something you would want to block or at least restrict.

The question now is whether Facebook and other ad-tech companies will try to find new ways to train our web activity, in an attempt to outsmart Apple.

Presentational grey line

Siri enhancements

Apple also overhauled its virtual assistant Siri to control third-party apps without users having to open them.

A new Shortcuts function allows device owners to assign their own phrases to different commands.

In addition, a single command, such as “I’m heading home” can be set to trigger multiple actions.


Although Apple was one of the first tech firms to offer a smart assistant, Siri is widely seen to have fallen behind its rivals in recent years.

Its new abilities appear to be an attempt to expand its capabilities without requiring the kind of personal data-sharing that Android requires to get the best out of Google Assistant.

“Voice assistants like Siri are critical because they are becoming a vehicle to a service,” commented Ben Stanton, an analyst at the consultancy Canalys.

“If you think about booking taxis, ordering food or using social media, voice ultimately has the potential to overthrow”That’s a huge opportunity and why there’s so much money being invested into voice assistants.”

Siri’s new functionality appears to build on Workflow, an automation tool that Apple acquired last year.

Another major addition announced for iOS 12 was Time Limit, which will allow users to pre-determine how much time they should spend using individual apps, and bring up a full-screen alert when an allowance is used up.

Although adults will be able to extend the period, they can also prevent their children from being able to do so.

Parents will also be able to get a breakdown of how long children are spending using different apps, block access at certain times of the day, and restrict the types of content youngsters have access to.

“Just as people know they eat too much junk food but keep on doing it, they also know they shouldn’t spend hours buried in their phone but still do it,” commented Neil Mawston from tech advisory firm Strategy Analytics.

“So, device-makers and app providers do have a responsibility to make sure their products don’t become an addiction for consumers.”

Google unveiled similar tools at its own IO developers conference last month.

Other announcements about iOS 12 included:

  • Memojis, animated emojis that can be set to look like device owners, much like the AR emojis introduced on Samsung’s Galaxy S9
  • Group Facetime, in which up to 32 people can take part in the same audio or video call
  • Shared experiences in augmented reality, whereby several devices can be used simultaneously to show graphics mixed with the real world from different points of view

The next version of WatchOS – which powers the firm’s smartwatch – will also gain new facilities.

They include the ability to automatically detect when a workout has begun, so that if the user presses start several minutes later they can still be credited with all their activity.

The firm also promised to launch Walkie-Talkie – a push-to-talk Watch app, that will let two users chat together via 4G or wi-fi.

It was first announced in September 2014, but had appeared to have been forgotten until now.

Apple TV also promised a feature previously teased: Dolby Atmos, which will allow compatible audio equipment to deliver improved surround sound by bouncing audio off the ceiling.

And the next version of the Mac operating system introduces a new dark mode for people who like the colour black.

“Some of us are going to want to run dark mode just because it is so cool, I mean your emoji look great,” said Mr Federighi.


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Mozilla Stops Facebook Tracking With a Firefox Add-On


[caption id="attachment_6950" align="alignnone" width="700"]Mozilla Stops Facebook Tracking With a Firefox Add-On Mozilla Stops Facebook Tracking With a Firefox Add-On[/caption]


“You can continue to use Facebook as normal, but Zuckerberg can no longer track you around the web.” – PC Mag’s Matthew Humphries stated on March 27th, 2018

With the recent issues with Facebook security and releasing user information, Matthew Humphries suggests adding a Foxfire Add-On through Mozilla to protect users from their personal information spreading around the web.

Regardless of what action (if any) ends up being taken on Facebook in light of the Cambridge Analytica debacle, people are waking up to just how much tracking happens on the social network. Choosing to delete your Facebook account is a little too drastic for most users, so Mozilla came up with an alternative. If you use the Firefox browser, it’s now easy to stop Facebook tracking you around the web.

Announced on The Mozilla Blog today, a new add-on for the Firefox browser has been launched called Facebook Container. When installed, it stops Facebook from tracking you around the web, but importantly, allows Facebook to function as normal when you’re actually using the social network.

Mozilla achieved this by isolating your Facebook identity and placing it in a separate container for the rest of your browsing experience. By doing so, it’s much harder for Facebook to track any visits to other websites through third-party cookies.

As Nick Nguyen, VP of Firefox Product explains, the aim here was to offer, “A solution that doesn’t tell users to simply stop using a service that they get value from. Instead, it gives users tools that help them protect themselves from the unexpected side effects of their usage.”

If you are worried about the data being collected about you but don’t want to stop using the social network, Facebook Container is a great solution for protecting yourself. It’s also a good reason to install and start using the Firefox browser if you haven’t already.

Once installed, you’ll know the add-on is working on the blue Facebook and lock symbol that appears in the address bar when visiting Facebook, just like in the image above.




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PCMag Facebook Tracking – Firefox Add-on

Cost of Free Downloads: Sinister Bug Found in uTorrent Apps

A critical vulnerability has been detected in two versions of uTorrent, which is one of the Internet’s most widely used BitTorrent apps. Gaps in the system were discovered by Google Project Zero. According to experts, the vulnerability allows hackers to gain access to downloaded files and download history.

The biggest threat is by malicious sites that could exploit the flaw to download malicious code into the Windows startup folder, where it will automatically run the next time the computer boots up. Any site a user visits can also access downloaded files and browse download histories.

Experts at Project Zero emphasize that the most serious threat is malicious pages that give their owners the ability to download viruses to the Windows startup folder.

The developers of uTorrent stated that the dangerous vulnerability has been fixed in the beta version of the PC program, but the public update will only appear in the next few days.

[caption id="attachment_6941" align="alignnone" width="700"]Cost of Free Downloads: Sinister Bug Found in uTorrent Apps Cost of Free Downloads: Sinister Bug Found in uTorrent Apps[/caption]

The Best Laptops of 2018

The Lay of the Laptop Land

The market has undergone major changes in the past few years, and there’s likely to be more confusion in the notebook aisle now than at any other time. Today’s models encompass everything from featherweight, business-savvy ultraportables that barely tip the scales at less than 2 pounds, to lap-crushing gaming behemoths of 10 pounds or more.

Your standard laptop doesn’t look the way it once did, either, with dozens of convertible designs that rethink the standard clamshell to take advantage of touch interfaces. Some laptops double as tablets, with hinges that bend and fold, while other touch-enabled PCs are actually slate tablets that come with hardware keyboards for notebook-style use. There’s simply too much variety in the laptop space for one size or style to fit every person’s needs.

That’s where this buying guide comes in. We’ll brief you on all the latest designs and specs, and parse the current trends, helping you figure out which features you need and how to find the laptop you really want.

Picking Your Laptop By Size

Finding the Best 12- to 13-Inch Laptop

At the small end of the spectrum, 12- and 13-inch laptops, or ultraportables (more on these below), are worth considering if you plan on toting your laptop. These models are small enough to weigh 3 pounds or less, but large enough they include a full-size keyboard and a decent size-screen. The downside is that port selection tends to be minimal due to the limited amount of room available on side panels. These laptops usually serve simple needs like surfing the web or modest word processing, and they’re a good choice for business travelers who need to tote a laptop frequently. Smaller 10- and 11-inch laptops have even less room for ports, and will have smaller keyboards and space between the keys, so you’ll have to adjust your typing style to accommodate.

Sweet Spot: The Best 14- to 15-Inch Laptops

Laptops with 14- to 15.6-inch screens are the most popular, because they hit the sweet spot between portability and features that most users find desirable. Yes, they may weigh a few more pounds than their smaller-screen siblings, but in return you get easy reading on a larger screen, more room for various I/O ports, better internal components, and extra battery cells. You’re up to 3 or 4 pounds in weight at this screen size, but that’s still easy to carry around an office building or your home.

Screen Giants: The Best 17-Inch Laptops

The largest screens available typically show up in workstation-class and gaming laptops, though there are a few budget desktop-replacement options here as well. A 17-inch screen is large enough to share for presentations, or if you need the extra pixels to immerse yourself in your graphics projects or 3D games. The extra space in the chassis can be used for one or more graphics processors, desktop-class CPUs, or multiple banks of hard drives and SSDs. The larger chassis also usually means a more roomy keyboard. Weight can be over 6 pounds, and up to 20 pounds for gaming rigs. These systems aren’t meant to be portable, and typically don’t have long battery life.

Almost all offer screen resolutions of at least full HD or 1,920 by 1,080 (often abbreviated “FHD” or “1080p”), while an increasing number feature displays with the big-screen resolution of 4K (3,840 by 2,160). Between 4K and 1080p, an emerging resolution in panels this size is QHD, or 2,560 by 1,440; QHD is showing up in a few elite-level machines, such as certain high-end configurations of the Alienware 17. But 1080p is by far the most common resolution you’ll see. Touch screens are rare at this size.

Laptops by Type


Walk down any laptop aisle and you’ll notice that the selection of laptops has become dramatically thinner and sleeker. Each of these wafer-thin systems represents a new vision for ultraportable computing: a no-compromises laptop light enough that you’ll forget it’s in your briefcase, with a long-lasting battery that will keep you working even when no power outlet is available. Fast storage, whether by way of a full 128GB or 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) or, more affordably, 32GB to 64GB of eMMC flash, give these ultraportables the ability to resume work in seconds after being idle or asleep for days. Intel’s marketing focus has migrated to the convertible-hybrid laptops and detachable-hybrid tablets that it refers to as 2-in-1 devices (see the next section for more information), but ultraportables are still a distinct category.

Most important, the entire category has thinned down in general. Whether you’re looking at sliver-thin ultraportables, mainstream PCs, or even gaming machines, laptops of every flavor today are thinner, lighter, and better suited to life on the go. The best of these models will still cost you a pretty penny, particularly if you’re looking for a business system that won’t weigh you down when you travel for work, but they offer remarkable performance and often come with several high-end features as well. Touch screens (with 1080p resolution), full-size HDMI ports, and 8 or more hours of battery life are commonplace, and premium laptops (with premium prices) now come with high-resolution screens, up to 3,840-by-2,160 resolution (4K) at the top end.

For more, check out The Best Ultraportables and The Best Business Laptops.

Hybrid Laptops

The parallel evolution of powerful tablets and laptops’ emphasis on touch capability haven’t just encouraged the growth of those individual categories—they’ve created a new one that combines them. Hybrid systems, aka 2-in-1s, are capable of functioning either as a laptop or a tablet, depending on what you need (or want) at any given moment. This gives you a lot more freedom when interacting with the device, and makes it more functional in more places.

There are two types of 2-in-1. The first is the convertible-hybrid, which transforms from a laptop to tablet and back again by rotating all the way around on the display’s hinge. You can also stop at various positions along the way, if you want to stand the screen up on the keyboard like a kiosk display, or if you want to balance it on its edges so you can use just the touch screen in very little space. This design is best if you’re interested in a tablet, but expect to need a good keyboard with some frequency.

If the keyboard is less important, a detachable hybrid might be the better way to go. These are primarily tablets that you can dock with an accessory keyboard for laptop-like functionality. Some of these designs offer docking keyboards with secondary batteries that provide all-day charge, while others opt for Bluetooth keyboards, forgoing the bulk of a docking hinge and connecting wirelessly.

Interested in one of these alternative types? Check out our roundups of theBest 2-in-1s or the Best Windows Tablets.

Asus Chromebook Flip (C302CA-DHM4)

Mainstream and Premium Models

While the entire laptop category has gotten slimmer, there’s still a market for larger desktop-replacement laptops that blend premium design and function. Desktop replacements aren’t quite as easy to cart around as smaller ultraportables, but these 14- and 15-inch laptops offer everything you need in a day-to-day PC. They have bigger displays, a broader selection of ports and features, and are one of the few categories that still offer optical drives. Screen resolutions run the gamut from 1,366 by 768 for budget systems to the more mainstream 1,920-by-1,080 resolution, up to the 3,840-by-2,160 resolution found on high-end multimedia laptops intended for graphics professionals.

Media and Gaming Machines

Laptop and desktop sales may have started to decline in recent years, with tablet sales expanding to fill the gap, but gaming PC sales have actually increased. For anyone who wants top-of-the-line performance for PC games, the combination of a high-end processor, a potent discrete graphics card, and a large, high-resolution display is well worth the higher prices such gaming rigs frequently command. And do those prices run high—while an entry-level gaming laptop typically starts at about $799, you can expect to pay $3,000 or more for a system with a powerful processor, lots of memory, and one or more high-end GPUs with the horsepower needed to play games with all the graphical details maxed out.

Before you drop a grand or two on a gaming laptop, you should know what you’re getting for your money. Powerful quad-core processors are par for the course, with Intel Core i7 chips pushing serious performance even for non-gaming applications. Discrete GPUs from Nvidia and AMD provide silky-smooth graphics and impressive frame rates; some high-end rigs come with two GPUs, helping justify their high prices. External GPU docks are also an option, connected to the laptop via a Thunderbolt 3 cable. Additional features to watch for include high-resolution displays and hard drives that offer 1TB or more of local storage space, so you can store your entire game library on the machine.

Not all gaming laptops are hulking beasts, however. The sleek designs of ultraportables have given rise to a new breed of machine that puts gaming-level performance into a more portable design, with the sleek build and long-lasting battery life you haven’t traditionally seen in this category. But this high-level performance doesn’t come cheap here, either—gaming ultraportables usually run in the $2,000 range.

Check out our top-rated gaming laptop picks.

Alienware 17 R4 (2017)


Chromebooks are at the other end of the pricing spectrum from gaming laptops. These Chrome OS–based laptops generally run from $199 to around $500 in price, though many are in the middle of that range. The $999 Google Pixelbook is an outlier that competes with Windows-based premium ultraportables. These power-efficient systems are made primarily to surf the Internet using Chrome OS. Small in stature, tall in power, narrow of purpose, and wide of vision, Chrome OS is essentially the Google Chrome browser running on hardware specs that would be considered “tight” for a Windows PC. System memory is typically a lean 2GB to 4GB, and local storage is commonly limited to 16GB of flash memory (though you will see systems with 32GB to 64GB). But that’s certainly enough to get on to the Internet, where cloud services like Google Drive store your files.

A primary benefit of Chrome OS is that it is relatively immune to the malware plaguing Windows systems, because you’re not running Windows programs at all. Chrome OS updates also take seconds, rather than the minutes and hours you’ll wait on macOS and Windows. If you spend more than 90 percent of your computer time in a Web browser, you should have no trouble using a chromebook as your primary PC.

A recent development is the ability to run Android apps from the Google Play Store on Chromebooks. This perk lets you use the laptop, even when you’re not connected to the Internet. These are the same apps you run on your phone, including games, productivity apps, and streaming video services. Productivity apps like Word and Excel extend the Chromebooks’ usefulness offline.

In the market for a Chrome OS laptop? We’ve rounded up the Best Chromebooks available. If you’re simply on a strict budget, our list of the Best Cheap Laptops is worth a look.

Laptop Shopping by Spec

Connectivity is key for a modern laptop. Almost every model on the market today offers Bluetooth for connecting wireless peripherals, and Internet connectivity via 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Mobile broadband options, for when there’s no Wi-Fi hotspot handy, include 3G, 4G HSPA+, and 4G LTE, but these are increasingly rare, as users opt for personal mobile hotspots that work with several devices or tether their smartphone to use its broadband connection.

Ultraportables and desktop replacements alike depend upon USB connectivity to work with a broad range of accessories and peripherals. USB 3.0, which offers much greater bandwidth and faster data transfer than USB 2.0, can be found in all but the oldest and lowest-priced designs; it’s usually identifiable by a port colored in blue or labeled with the letters SS (for Super Speed). Some USB ports can charge handheld devices even when the laptop is powered down. Look for a lightning bolt icon next to the USB logo for these charging ports.

What is USB-C?

Although for a while manufacturers like Apple, HP, and Lenovo implemented Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 interfaces as a faster alternative to USB 3.0 for hooking up monitors, storage devices, and docking stations, for the most part they did not gain widespread adoption. That’s unlikely to be true with USB-C and Thunderbolt 3, however. In addition to allowing for huge amounts of throughput as well as power delivery, the USB-C interface is much smaller than the older (Type-A) USB port. (You also don’t have to worry about flipping the orientation of the plug.) This makes it ideal for the svelte laptops (half an inch or less) that are popular today. The downside is that you’ll also have to give up larger, useful ports like Ethernet and HDMI, unless you’re willing to carry around dongles for each, which can be inconvenient.

Thunderbolt 3 rides in on USB-C’s coattails, using the same plug and socket, with extra circuitry to boost throughput to 40Gbps for humungous data transfers. That’s eight times as fast as USB 3.0, and four times as fast as USB 3.1/USB-C. USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are showing up in a lot of new laptops, from $229 budget models to $5,000 mobile workstations; Apple MacBooks and MacBook Pros that use it exclusively are among the highest-profile adoptees to date. Because of the general necessity of having thinner, more extensible ports in computer hardware of all types, expect these two interfaces to be pretty much everywhere in the coming months (even if they won’t overtake USB 3.0 in popularity for a while yet).

The venerable VGA interface is rapidly disappearing, due in part to space constraints in ultraportables that preclude the bulky connector, and newer monitors and projectors that work better with DisplayPort, HDMI, USB-C or Thunderbolt 3. HDMI is especially popular lately, thanks to the demand for connecting laptops to TVs. Alternately, you can use an Apple TV or Google Chromecast device to beam video and audio to your TV wirelessly.

Also becoming scarce is the optical drive. With so many software and game purchases occurring online, and cloud services taking over for many local applications, the optical drive has been dropped from most model lines, with new systems touting slimmer, lighter form factors. For those who still need to install software from a disc or want to enjoy movies on DVD or Blu-ray, you can still find them (particularly on gaming laptops), but it takes some hunting. For those without, external USB DVD and Blu-ray drives are as easy to use as built-in drives.

While premium ultraportables rely solely upon SSDs for the performance boost offered by solid-state storage, most mainstream systems use a combination of an SSD and a traditional spinning hard drive. This lets you run programs quickly and still have lots of (slower) storage for your photos, videos, and other files. SSD-only laptops frequently top out at 256GB or 512GB, though you may occasionally see some premium systems with 1TB and larger drives. If you need more hard drive space, a USB 3.0 or USB-C external hard drive should do the trick.

A Word About Windows and Touch Input

Microsoft’s Windows 8 was supposed to make computing more touch-centric, but general dissatisfaction with its interface meant that Microsoft made the next version of its operating system easier to use with a keyboard and touchpad. These days, Windows 10 is likely to be the OS on your new laptop. It combines elements from the Windows 8 touch-based UI with more traditional features that don’t rely on a touch screen. There’s more to Windows 10 than can be addressed here, but the bottom line is that it has brought the touch interface to the forefront. As a result, most new laptops feature touch screens, and those that don’t will have features in place to provide similar functionality.

If you’re in the market for a Windows laptop and want a touch screen, don’t think you’ll have to pay a lot to get one: Even entry-level models in the $200-to-$350 price range may have them these days, and the Windows touch experience now is much better than it used to be. Chances are you won’t need it or want it on a gaming machine, however, as touch input could potentially interfere with the precision control schemes you need to master today’s game titles.

What’s Under the Hood?

The most dominant processor chips come from Intel, which in mid-2017 launched its 8th-Generation Core (code-named “Kaby Lake R”) processors. Made with ultraportables and hybrid designs in mind, these new CPUs (identifiable by model numbers in the 8000s as opposed to the 7000s and 6000s used in previous-generation “Kaby Lake” and “Skylake” parts) not only stretch battery life, they also boast improved graphics processing. 8th-gen processors also feature more cores than predecessors, so you will find a true quad-core CPU in your Core i5 laptop, with more power than an older dual-core. Core M is another extension of Kaby Lake that trades some performance gains for even better battery life. AMD’s own line of processors also offer enhanced performance at low prices, but can’t match the efficiency gains of Intel’s latest chips.

Whether you go with the Kaby Lake/Kaby Lake R or Skylake chips from Intel (the latest Coffee Lake generation is currently working its way into desktop PCs but has yet to come to laptops), or AMD’s APUs, you should find an integrated graphics subsystem adequate for graphics tasks, unless you’re a part-time gamer or a CAD user. High-end discrete graphics processing units are terrific for 3D games, transcoding 1080p video, or watching 4K movies, but like fast processors, they also feast on laptop batteries.

Many laptop designs now incorporate non-removable batteries that can’t be swapped out. While the move toward sealing batteries into the chassis does allow for thinner designs, it removes the possibility of swapping out batteries on the go for longer use between charging. On the other hand, the efficiency gains of Intel’s newest processors mean that most laptops will still last for the better part of a day.

Apple MacBook Pro 15-Inch

Beyond Plastic

As designs get sleeker and slimmer, manufacturers are using an array of materials in their construction. Plastic (or polycarbonate) is the least expensive and most commonly used material in laptop frames, but manufacturers have shown great ingenuity in making plastic not look cheap. The most common technique is in-mold decoration or in-mold rolling, a process made popular by Acer, HP, and Toshiba, in which decorative patterns are infused between plastic layers. This process has evolved into etched imprints and textures, commonly seen on laptop lids.

In the end, though, plastics are often associated with low-priced laptops, while higher-end models rely on metals. Common premium choices include aluminum, which has a more luxurious look, and can be fashioned into a thinner chassis than plastic. Unibody construction, where the entire chassis is made from a single piece of metal, has become the gold standard, as seen on Apple’s MacBook and MacBook Pro lines. Other all-metal designs mimic this same look and feel, securely sandwiching two separate layers together.

Other common chassis materials include magnesium alloy and carbon fiber, both of which add strength while keeping overall weight low. Glass has long been found covering displays, but with ultra-strong variants like Gorilla Glass, you’ll find the material being used in everything from the lid to the touchpad.

Should You Buy an Extended Warranty?

Most laptops are backed by a one-year warranty on parts and labor. The standard warranty is limited, so it won’t cover accidents that stem from, say, spilling a drink on the keyboard or dropping the system to a hard surface.

Most laptop manufacturers also sell accidental coverage as a separate plan on top of optional extended warranties, so you might end up spending close to $300 for three years of comprehensive coverage. Apple offers a maximum three-year extended warranty ($249-379), while most Windows-based laptop manufacturers offer up to four years.

Our rule of thumb is that if the warranty costs more than 15 percent of the laptop’s purchase price, you’re better off spending the money on backup drives or services that minimize downtime. Of course, you can’t put a price tag on peace of mind. There are instances when the logic board or the display—the most expensive parts of a laptop—fail, and while rare, such a catastrophe can cost you half of what the laptop is worth. Defective components usually break down during the first year; anything after that is typically attributed to wear and tear. If the breakdown can be attributed to a design flaw, laptop manufacturers will sometimes extend free warranties to cover these flaws, but only for certain models built during limited time periods.

The Top Laptops We’ve Tested (for Now)

The systems below, some of the best we’ve recently tested, span the spectrum of features, performance, and price to provide top choices for each type of user. We refresh the list monthly to include the newest products, but because of the large number of laptops we review every year, not every top-rated product makes the cut. For the latest reviews, and to search for more top-rated products, check out the Laptop Product Guide.





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The Linux ranger: What is it and how do you use it?

Installing Linux Ranger

The Linux ranger: What is it and how do you use it?

The Linux ranger is a file manager that works in a terminal window and provides a smooth way to view and edit files.

For those of us who cut our technical teeth on the Unix/Linux command line, the relatively new ranger makes examining files a very different experience. A file manager that works inside a terminal window, ranger provides useful information and makes it very easy to move into directories, view file content or jump into an editor to make changes.

Unlike most file managers that work on the desktop but leave you to the whims of ls, cat and more to get a solid handle on files and contents, ranger provides a very nice mix of file listing and contents displays with an easy way to start editing. In fact, among some Linux users, ranger has become very popular.

As you start ranger, you will see a display that looks something like this:

shs@stinkbug /home/shs/bin
shs       bin               5case1
          Desktop           0   killit
          Documents        11   prime
          Music             0   sieve
          Pictures          0   tryme
          Public            0
          Reports           8
          Templates         0
          Videos            0
          examples.desktop  8.77 K

drwxrwxr-x 2 shs shs 5 2018-0206 17:28   14.2K sum, 63G free  1/11 All

The first line shows the user and system, plus the directory that has its contents listed on the right.

The columns in the display show the current directory (shs), the subdirectories and files (bin, Desktop, etc.), the number of files within each directory or the file size (if it’s a file), the contents of the currently selected directory or the content of the currently selected file.

shs@stinkbug /home/shs/bin
shs     / bin                 5   case1    \
       /  Desktop             0   killit    \
      /   Documents          11   prime    files in bin
     /    Music               0   sieve     /
   dirs   Pictures            0   tryme    /
     \    Public              0
      \   Reports             8
       \  Templates           0
        \ Videos              0
          examples.desktop 8.77 K
          servers          61 B

drwxrwxr-x 2 shs shs 5 2018-0206 17:28   14.2K sum, 63G free  1/11 All

How to move around ranger

Moving around in ranger is easy and quickly becomes second nature.

  • q quit
  • => (right arrow) moves down a directory
  • <= (left arrow) moves up a directory
  • return — if current selection is a directory, opens the directory
  • return — if current selection is a file, opens the file for editing

The line at the bottom of the display is essentially the long listing of the file or directory, displaying the permissions, owner and group, date and time, size, etc. — typical long listing details. Ranger will use your EDITOR setting to determine what editor to use when you go to edit a file.

The editor that is invoked depends on your account settings. Change your settings with a command like this, and it will use vi.

Ranger works with a series of optional config files. To load them, you would start ranger as shown below. It will set up your configuration files in a ~/.config/ranger directory.

$ ranger --copy-config=all
creating: /home/shs/.config/ranger/rifle.conf
creating: /home/shs/.config/ranger/
creating: /home/shs/.config/ranger/
creating: /home/shs/.config/ranger/rc.conf
creating: /home/shs/.config/ranger/

Ranger is written in python and is an extremely clever tool for quick file browsing with little effort. It’s an easy-to-use file manager for both command line newbies and experienced Unix pros. It was developed by Roman Zimbelmann and is licensed under the terms of the GNU General Public License.




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Cisco says within three years, most if not all workloads will be cloud based

Cisco Cloud

“Cisco says by 2021, 94 percent of all workloads will run in some form of cloud environment. Even on-premises workloads will run in a virtualized environment.” stated  , from Network World. 

In its latest Cisco Global Cloud Index (2016-2021), the networking giant predicts that by 2021, 94 percent of all workloads will run in some form of cloud environment and that dedicated servers will be a distinct minority.

That 94 percent covers both public and private cloud scenarios, which means even in an on-premises scenario, almost all workloads are going to be run in a virtualized environment. The days where a server is dedicated to one workload are rapidly drawing to a close.

“We use the definition of one workload or instance with one physical server,” said Thomas Barnett, director, Cisco Service Provider forecast and trends. “In virtual scenarios, we’re seeing one workload with multiple virtual machines and containers. Based on growth in public cloud, we’ve overcome some of the barriers of adoption, such as cost and security and simplicity of deploying of these services.”


Why cloud use is increasing

One thing fueling the drive to the cloud is the explosion in SaaS workloads. By 2021, 75 percent, compared with 16 percent for IaaS workloads and compute instances, down from 21 percent in 2016 and 9 percent will be PaaS workloads and compute instances, up from 8 percent in 2016.

One reason traffic is moving to the cloud is there is a lot of it and the amount of traffic is growing fast — and it needs the elasticity the cloud offers. Cisco predicts data center traffic will triple by 2021, with traffic in North America growing from 2.8 zettabytes per year now to 8 zettabytes by 2021. The Asia/Pacific region will grow the fastest, from 2.1 zettabytes this year to 6.7 zettabytes in 2021.

This growth will be fueled by a combination of improved security and the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT). In the past, Cisco notes, security concerns have been a major barrier to cloud adoption. Improvements in data center governance and data control have helped to minimize enterprise risk and better protect consumer information.

Big growth in hyperscale data centers

That means big growth in hyperscale data centers, the massive data centers that are the size of multiple football stadiums with tens of thousands of servers and often their own power source, like a hydroelectric plant or wind turbines. Most are operated by the largest cloud providers, such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft.

Cisco predicts hyperscale data centers will go from 27 percent share of total data center servers to 53 percent by 2021, and it says the number of hyperscale data centers will grow from 338 in 2016 to 628 in 2021. By 2021, they will account for 69 percent of all data center processing power, 65 percent of all data stored, and 55 percent of all data center traffic.

This growth comes from both business and consumer applications. For consumers, streaming video, social networking, and internet search are among the most popular cloud applications, with video really accounting for a lot of the traffic. By 2021, video streaming will account for 10 percent of traffic within data centers and 85 percent of traffic from data centers to end users.

For business users, enterprise resource planning (ERP), collaboration, analytics, and other digital enterprise applications represent leading growth areas. In particular, big data is going to get a lot bigger. Big data will account for 403 exabytes by 2021, up almost 8-fold from 25 exabytes in 2016. Big data will represent 30 percent of all data stored in data centers by 2021, up from 18 percent in 2016

That means big growth in hyperscale data centers, the massive data centers that are the size of multiple football stadiums with tens of thousands of servers and often their own power source, like a hydroelectric plant or wind turbines. Most are operated by the largest cloud providers, such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft.

Cisco predicts hyperscale data centers will go from 27 percent share of total data center servers to 53 percent by 2021, and it says the number of hyperscale data centers will grow from 338 in 2016 to 628 in 2021. By 2021, they will account for 69 percent of all data center processing power, 65 percent of all data stored, and 55 percent of all data center traffic.

This growth comes from both business and consumer applications. For consumers, streaming video, social networking, and internet search are among the most popular cloud applications, with video really accounting for a lot of the traffic. By 2021, video streaming will account for 10 percent of traffic within data centers and 85 percent of traffic from data centers to end users.

For business users, enterprise resource planning (ERP), collaboration, analytics, and other digital enterprise applications represent leading growth areas. In particular, big data is going to get a lot bigger. Big data will account for 403 exabytes by 2021, up almost 8-fold from 25 exabytes in 2016. Big data will represent 30 percent of all data stored in data centers by 2021, up from 18 percent in 2016.




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Network World Cisco – Cloud Based





The Best VPN Services of 2018

“A virtual private network is the best way to stay anonymous online and to secure your web traffic. We’ve tested more than 50 VPNs, and these are our top performers” stated PC Mag’s, Max Eddy. 

Best VPN Services of 2018


What Is a VPN?

In the simplest terms, a VPN is used to create a secure, encrypted connection—which can be thought of as a tunnel—between your computer and a server operated by the VPN service. In a professional setting, this tunnel makes you part of the company’s network, as if you were physically sitting in the office—hence the name.

While you’re connected to a VPN, all your network traffic passes through this protected tunnel, and no one—not even your ISP—can see your traffic until it exits the tunnel from the VPN server and enters the public internet. If you make sure to only connect to websites secured with HTTPS, your data will continue to be encrypted even after it leaves the VPN.

Think about it this way: If your car pulls out of your driveway, someone can follow you and see where you are going, how long you are at your destination, and when you are coming back. They might even be able to peek inside your car and learn more about you. With a VPN service, you are essentially driving into a closed parking garage, switching to a different car, and driving out, so that no one who was originally following you knows where you went.

VPNs Keep You Safe Online

Have you become so comfortable with the idea of transmitting your data via Wi-Fi that you’ve stopped worrying about the safety of said data—and of who else might be looking at it? You’re not alone. In fact, you’re probably in the majority. That’s a huge privacy and security problem. Public Wi-Fi networks, which are commonplace and convenient, are unfortunately also highly convenient for attackers who are looking to compromise your personal information. When even your ISP is allowed to sell your browsing history it’s time to begin thinking about protecting your data. That’s where virtual private networks, or VPNs, come in.


Who Needs a VPN?

The protection provided by a VPN offers users many advantages. First and foremost, it prevents anyone on the same network access point (or anywhere else) from intercepting your web traffic in a man-in-the-middle attack. This is especially handy for travelers and for those using public Wi-Fi networks, such as web surfers at hotels, airports, and coffee shops. VPNs also cloak your computer’s actual IP address, making it harder for advertisers (or spies, or hackers) to track you online.


How to Choose a VPN Service

The VPN services market has exploded in the past few years, and a small competition has turned into an all-out melee. Many providers are capitalizing on the general population’s growing concerns about surveillance and cybercrime, which means it’s getting hard to tell when a company is actually providing a secure service and when it’s throwing out a lot of fancy words while selling snake oil. In fact, since VPN services have become so popular in the wake of Congress killing ISP privacy rules, there have even been fake VPNs popping up, so be careful. It’s important to keep a few things in mind when evaluating which VPN service is right for you: reputation, performance, type of encryption used, transparency, ease of use, support, and extra features. Don’t just focus on price, though that is an important factor.


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Le Slide: Crazy contraption allows you to add two more screens to any laptop!

Crazy contraption allows you to add two more screens to any laptop!

Crazy contraption allows you to add two more screens to any laptop!

What is it? 

A triple monitor solution for your laptop.


Slidenjoy’s “Le Slide” gadget, a computer accessory that adds a screen to each side of a laptop display, is on the floor at CES this year.

  • It comes in 13, 15, and 17 inch (33, 38, 43 cm) models
  • Full HD (1920 x 1080) 16:9 LED display with 60hz refresh rate
  • Runs on a single USB 3.0 /USB-C port or two USB 2.0 ports
  • Uses DisplayLink to power graphics

This gadget is a module that clips on to the back of your laptop screen and plugs in with one cable. Two prototypes have been released thus far.

Why does it matter?

There’s a number of reasons why someone would want an additional two screens on a laptop. And Le Slide looks even more inviting once you realize the screens are adjustable by 180 degrees. This means you can share your screen with someone in a face-to-face meeting without having to awkwardly snuggle up together side-by-side.

Slidenjoy says it’ll use up about 30-50 percent of your battery power, so this isn’t an accessory for those who mostly work without a plug. For the rest of us though, this looks like a pretty sweet solution for people who want the portability of one screen with the option of using two or three.

In the future, the company plans on making a gaming version.

When is it coming?

You can customize and order one now, on the Slidenjoy website starting from around $416.



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Intel Processors, Dubbed Meltdown!

Well 2018 is off to a big start, unfortunately, not the start Intel was hoping for. Intel disclosed that the design of its processors are flawed. However, the company said that this issue will not affect everyday customers.

“The issue is found in how Intel processors work with page tables for handling virtual memory. It is believed that an exploit would be able to observe the content of privileged memory by exploiting a technique called speculative execution. Speculative execution is a part of a methodology called out-of-order execution (OOE), where basically the CPU makes an educated guess on what will happen next based on the data it has. It’s designed to speed up the CPU rather than burn up CPU cycles working its way through a process. It’s all meant to make the CPU as efficient as possible.”  Network World – on Intel Processors

Conflicting statements are being made, stating that the security vulnerabilities in Intel, AMD and ARM processors affect almost every PC, smart phone or tablet. Futher explaining that, “the underlying vulnerability is primarily caused by CPU implementation optimization choices. Fully removing the vulnerability requires replacing vulnerable CPU hardware,” says the bulletin.

A short, but brutal, security update from the Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center (CERT/CC) lays out exactly how hard these vulnerabilities are going to be to fixed. Stamping out this issue once and for all will require drastic measures,  says CERT.

There are operating system and software patches for Microsoft Windows, Google Android, the Linux operating system, and reportedly Apple MacOS that “mitigate the underlying hardware vulnerability,” and are thus worth installing, as CERT/CC writes in its bulletin.

In order to fix the problem in it entirety, Intel will need to redesign a processor that does not rely on speculative execution. And while we wait for those processors to come around, some of the operating system patches that mitigate the risk of a Meltdown or Spectre attack are reported by researchers to carry a hit to processor performance of as much as 30%. That performance hit has critics like Linux creator Linus Torvalds in a frenzy.


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